Siesta is the Besta

In the spirit of recovery and a change of scenery, Jeff arranged an excursion to Alicante. It’s a medium sized city south of Valencia just two hours by the slow train. It’s a great way to travel. The towns in between are sleepy and the ride is smooth enough that if a nap is in order, then a nap one shall have.

We got to Alicante on the early train and were able to check into a hotel before lunch. They put us on the 24th floor overlooking the castle and the sea, so the views were spectacular. The harbor was at our feet and Santa Barbara Castle was right off the balcony.

We got some breakfast and then I promptly fell asleep until 5pm. I’m fully embracing the Spanish Siesta in my convalescence. Jeff went out for provisions for a make shift dinner and allowed me to rest for the rest of the evening. The views from the window were enough to keep me happy. The sky, the castle and the sea. Sublime.

Santa Barbara castle at night

The next morning we awoke to a spectacular sunrise coming over the horizon. On my Camino last year, I saw one nearly every morning as I would leave the Albergues when it was still dark. This is one of the first Spanish sunrises I’ve seen since then and it didn’t disappoint. We sat on the balcony and had some coffee and just stared at the sea.

Sometimes I have to pinch myself that I’m living here. It can be easy to focus on the things that are more difficult. But sitting there looking out at the sea, I thought how much I wanted to enjoy that one moment. Yesterday is gone – tomorrow is unknown. That moment was perfect and I’ll never forget how beautiful the light was.

Jeff wanted to take a look at the Volvo Ocean Race museum in the harbor. It’s the largest round the world ocean race under sail, and it starts in Alicante every 3 years and the head quarters is there too. We learned a lot about the history of the race in the UK and it’s eventual move to Spain. Very impressive and we’re already making plans to ensure we’re in one of the ports when they come in. Brutal conditions but what competitors! Inspiring.

We had decided to tour the castle before heading back to Valencia on the train. Looking up at it, I thought two things. ‘How the hell am I going to get up there?’ and ‘If I get up there, how the hell am I ever going to get down?’ Well, like most things here – it was well thought out and organized. Honestly, the Spanish do not want for serious structural or civil engineering and creative problem solving.

Always a Festival - Alicante

Seriously, though, there is an elevator bored in the mountain, upon which the castle sits. You buy your tickets at the bottom and walk through a very long tunnel. They’ll take you right up into the castle keep in a scary elevator, where you walk through another tunnel to see the spectacular views of the bluest sea.

Or – you can walk up the side of the mountain like a mountain goat. Or on a causeway that is reminiscent of the Great Wall of China. You’ll save 2,70 Euros but you’ll get a work out and sunstroke. Always an upside. The elevator will take you back down onto the main street when you’re done.

At the top, there is a cafe. We stopped to have lunch and enjoy the views. The contrast between the yellow stone walls and the deep blues of the Mediterranean Sea were well worth it. The palm trees blowing in the breeze. Lovely. And, of course, it wouldn’t have been complete without a lady in traditional garb posing for photos. We have no idea what this was about but her clothes were reminiscent of the Fallas dresses we saw back in March in Valencia.

There were languages from all over the world spoken at every turn. I had never heard of Santa Barbara Castle before, but apparently, it’s quite famous far and wide. Hand rails were thin on the ground, and at several points it was easy to see how rambunctious kids, or adults not paying attention, could go over the edge. There were signs prohibiting selfie sticks – and then people standing next to said signs with their selfie sticks, doing what? Oh yeah, taking photos right at the edge with them. Duh.

Jeff has dubbed this country as ‘Spain – a place where you just have to use your common sense or you’ll die.’ I think he likes the idea of natural selection taking those without it out of the gene pool. He’s kinder than he sounds, but we go to plenty of places full of tourists doing stupid things and he’s a little fed up. In the US they idiot proof nearly everything – and look where we are, so perhaps he has a point!

It was a beautiful day and the train back was great. The train stations here are very clean, compared to the US. And well organized. I’m so impressed. We sat on the other side of the train on the way home, so we got to see both sides. Jeff began to point out castle ruins on the hill tops above the town. I think he’s caught the bug. I’m so glad – because I’d like to become a castle aficionado while living in Europe. There are so many varying kinds, from so many different periods and styles. Some clearly built and rebuilt based on their stone wall strata – that I’m not sure we’ll ever get bored.

Anyway, it was a lovely quick trip. One filled with naps, views and history. Three of my favorite things.

Fun Facts

OK. I’m a freak for obscure, random knowledge. Things that matter to no one else. It’s why I went to the Salt and Pepper Museum and the Micro Museum in Guadalest yesterday. Am I interested in either of those things? Not really, but who knows what you’ll learn that you’ll store away and pull out at a dinner party? You don’t know, until you go and see it for yourself.

Alicante fields

The area south of Valencia is covered in olive groves. Lemons and oranges are verdant. And they also have thousands of trees bearing a fruit I only know by the name ‘Acideni’. It’s the name of the fruit in Arabic. Lebanon, and the campus at Stanford University, are the only two places I’ve ever seen them. I don’t know what this fruit is called in Spanish or English, but it’s sort of like an apricot and has black seeds instead of a pit. It’s yummy. Suffice to say, the region is an agricultural paradise.

As we were coming home from our tour of the Alicante region yesterday, our tour guide directed us to look off into the distant farm lands and to observe the canals that edge the fields and clearly cut the landscape, denoting one field from another. Water is, of course, the most precious commodity of farming and when there is a limited resource, competition and some disputes can arise. Enter the Tribunal de Agua.

What is that? You may ask. Well, it’s apparently the oldest judicial body in Europe, going back to the Moors and perhaps, even the Romans. And it’s pretty cool. The regional of Valencia is broken up into 12 Asequia (sp?) – water areas. These are presided over by a ‘Judge’ who is elected by the local farmers in that Asequia, and is a farmer himself. If there are water disputes, these guys are the arbitrators of the dispute and they levy fines or make judgement relating to agro water rights. Interesting? Sure, but it gets better.

What happens if these two farmers don’t agree with the Asequia judge for their region? They take their dispute to the Tribunal de Agua. It’s kind of like the Supreme Court of Water here. Who is on this tribunal and where do they meet? Some lofty mahogany room wearing robes and banging gavels? No, they do not.

The Tribunal is made up of all the water judges from the 12 Asequia. And every Thursday at 12 noon, they meet on the ‘Left side of the Church’ in Valencia – the big Cathedral. About 10 minutes before they are scheduled to meet, someone comes out with 12 folding chairs and puts them outside the ‘big doors’. They put up stanchions around them so keep the riff raff away. Then, precisely at noon, they file out and take their seats in a circle, dressed in their tradesmen smocks. A guy shouts out to the crowd gathered and basically asks if anyone has a water dispute they want these judges to hear and waits for them to come forward.

The shouting sounded like a formality to me. Sort of the ‘All rise, all who has business before this court shall come forward and be heard’ type of deal we do in the US in some of our commonwealth states. I mean, of course they know in advance via some sort of filing or paperwork, email, phone call, text message – that there will be someone coming to dispute the regional Asequia judge’s decision. But no. They don’t know. It’s a total surprise. And they gather on those 12 chairs every Thursday at noon and they don’t know who will show up or if they’ll hear a case.

And when they do hear a case, all parties just do whatever is determined in the outcome. No appeal. Everyone just agrees that these 12 guys on these chairs outside the Big Doors are the deciders. And there’s no filing. No court reporter. No one records the proceeding. It’s out in the open, and because it’s out in the open and anyone can come watch, its viewed that this is a fair and balanced hearing and thus ruling, and so everyone walks away and abides by it.

How’s that for random facts. Imagine if all our justice systems worked this well? Total transparency and no fighting. No judges that sat above their peers. Just an open hearing in, essentially, the town square and everyone walks away satisfied. It boggles the mind. But random fun facts usually do. I’m very sure this isn’t the last of them.

Making Friends – the Hard Way

Today, I decided to take a tour. This is not my usual deal. I’m more of a ‘go-it-alone’, ‘lets-see-where-the-road-takes-us’ kind of person. But I signed up when I heard about it and I crawled out of bed at 6am.

Nooo! I don’t get up at 6am anymore. That was the old me. The Mom-me. The working me. But the bus was gonna leave Xativa with or without me. And I wanted to be on it. Jeff saw me off, like the first day of Kindergarten. He was going to enjoy a blissful day ALONE. I think he was looking forward to it as much as I was looking forward to seeing more of the area.

Sunrise Xativa

The big red bus traveled south with me and all my expat friends – Brits, Canadians, Americans and the like. It was for English speakers and I learned a lot about how others in my position do things here, the topography of the region, and the history. The rich history. Ahhh. I was in my element. It was like being back in history class in school, where they told you stories that brought it alive. I loved history.

So our first stop, after a very, very winding (get you super car sick, don’t look down) road – was Guadalest. It’s a hilltop town with a castle at the top – duh. With a lot to see. I walked through the old part and through the manse that the family who controlled the region for 300 years built, had an earth quake and rebuilt, and then lost it in some sort of conflict. I was a bit sketchy on those details.


But it was so fun to walk around the old ramparts, and what did I discover that surprised me? Oh yes, the making of an Indian music video. I wanted to be irritated that they were harshing my bliss, but I kind of liked the music and the choreography.  And the lead singer was easy on the eyes.

Indian Video

Then we were off to Altea. This is closer tot he water and simply lovely. We had a bit of lunch (wine) and a brief walk around the town. Gorgeous views and great shopping. But not as good as the shopping in Gata de Gorgos. It’s a little town with a series of shops where they sell hand woven wicker goods, bags and rugs that are wonderful! So I had to buy a bag, and then a throw for the couch. And then a rug for under our dining room table.

When I walked out of the last shop with the large rug slung over my shoulder my fellow travelers laughed. The wife of our tour guide especially.


‘I knew it. In that first shop, I saw the look in your eye and I knew. She’s on a mission.’

‘Well.’ I told her. ‘I generally spot what I want right away. And these little shops seems to have many of the items on my list.’

Altea to the South

I put my finds in the hold, below the bus and we made it back to Valencia. The bus dropped us off near the Xativa Metro stop so I hoisted my rug on my shoulder, consolidated a few bags and set off for the metro, leaving my new friends to watch me shaking their heads. Now, you might think they were the last people on my trek home to stare at me and consider my schlepping of a large rug on a subway to be totally inappropriate. But there you’d be wrong.

I was nearly stopped by the man in the booth as I barely squeaked through the electronic ticket stall, and not because he didn’t try, in his sound proof glass box. But I found pretending not to notice him waving his arms at me worked well, and seeing as how he couldn’t seem to find his key in time to open his booth, I just whizzed past and down the two escalators to the platform. The train was pulling in at that very moment, and I want to say I hopped on it but I was lugging a large rug, so I ambled, while balancing it on my shoulder.

The other passengers weren’t as enamored of my home home decor choices as you would think, but like most people here, they said nothing, and I had counted on that. Just stared. I smiled and made sure it didn’t fall on anyone. Getting out of the subway and then walking the half mile home through sidewalk cafes and crowds was quite a challenge, but eventually I made it.

I want to say Jeff was surprised to see me and my rug and the rest of my purchases, but he didn’t bat and eye when he opened the door. He just took it from me and asked me where I wanted it. People in my tour group had asked me ‘what is your husband going to say?’ and I stopped for a moment before answering.

‘He expects nothing else from me.’ I told them honestly. ‘In fact, if I don’t come home with a rug or some other large thing, like an armadillo or a pony; something that requires geometry to get home, he’ll be disappointed.’

I’m a challenge shopper. It’s in my blood. I had so much fun on this tour, I’m signing us up for the next one. The Olive Oil tour. Jeff is not getting out of this one. A whole day pressing olives. And you can buy olive products and the like. Hmmm. I wonder what we’ll be lugging home on the subway that day!